In the early hours of last Thursday in Ecuador, members of the Judicial Police, assisted by the Prosecutor’s Office, broke down the door of Fabián Hurtado at his apartment in Quito. Hurtado is a cybersecurity expert at the International University (UISEK) in Ecuador and a digital forensics expert currently employed by Ola Bini’s defense. The police refused to let Hurtado read or have a copy of their warrant, and by immediately seizing his mobile phone and other digital equipment prevented him from contacting an attorney.
This raid was prompted, according to the authorities, by a belief that Hurtado “incorporated misleading information in his resume to try to mislead the authorities and citizens.” If so, the police action was wildly disproportionate to the alleged crime. Hurtado is a well-known, impartial forensics expert in Ecuador, employed by businesses, law enforcement, and defendants and plaintiffs alike. If there is a problem with Hurtado’s resume, the correct step would be to move to have him rejected as a court expert – not to storm into his home in the middle of the night.
Technical expertise will be vital ensuring a fair verdict in the Bini case, and the legitimacy of the trial will ultimately revolve around the technical knowledge of the court. The prosecution, after months of no obvious leads or reasons for Bini’s arrest and detention, settled last week on a charge based on a single screenshot obtained from Bini’s phone, showing a brief telnet connection years ago to an open router.
Bini’s case, from the very start, has been splayed across Ecuador’s media by the government, prosecutors and other political actors, with public opinion and short-term political expediency playing a greater part in the prosecution’s strategies rather than evidence and a fair trial. Given the high stakes initially described by government ministers and the prosecution – of squads of malicious hackers, and of Russian agents plotting to bring down the country’s infrastructure – the level of media attention is unsurprising. The danger to justice arises when one side uses their power as public servants to distort and undermine the legal process. With the raid on Fabián Hurtado, the prosecution give the impression of wanting to intimidate those most able to shine light on a very shady political affair.
Along with a growing number of civil liberties and international human rights groups, we urge the Ecuadorian authorities to step back and let the facts determine the course of the trial, with fairness and due process, and without intimidation or misuse of prosecutorial powers.